At least 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide. An estimate is certainly underestimated, underlines Unicef, on the occasion of the tenth international day of zero tolerance with regard to mutilation. This figure corresponds to 31 countries where the organization has been able to verify and identify cases. “Other studies reveal that these practices exist in at least 20 other countries around the world, which could increase the exact number of girls and women concerned”, regrets Unicef (source 1).
What is “genital mutilation”?
Female genital mutilation “covers all procedures including the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia Where any other lesions of the female genitalia that are performed for non-medical reasons“, indicates the WHO in a report published on January 22, 2022 (source 2).
There are four categories of genital mutilation:
- Type 1 mutilations: partial or total removal of the glans of the clitoris (small external and visible part of the clitoris) and/or the prepuce/clitoral hood (fold of skin that surrounds the clitoris).
- Type 2 mutilations: partial or total removal of the glans of the clitoris and the labia minora (inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (outer skin folds of the vulva).
- Type 3 mutilations (infibulation): the narrowing of the vaginal orifice by covering, carried out by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or the labia majora, sometimes by suturing, with or without removal of the foreskin/hood and clitoral glans.
- Type 4 mutilations: all other harmful interventions on the female genital organs for non-medical purposes (scarifications, burns, piercings, etc.).
Who are the most exposed women?
Genital mutilation is practiced among girls and women, most of the time between infancy and age 15.
This intervention is most often practiced by traditional circumciserswho often play a central role in communities, particularly as midwives,” explains the WHO (source 2).
And to specify: “in many places, female sexual mutilation is practiced by medical personnel because of the mistaken belief that the procedure is less dangerous when it is medicalized“.
Which regions of the world are most affected?
The mutilations are mainly operated in Africa (from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa), in the Middle-East (particularly in Iraq and Yemen), as well as in certain countries in Asia and in indonesia.
“The data shows that this varies considerably from one country to another. For example, this practice is very widespread in Somalia, Guinea, Mali and Djibouti where 90% of women and girls are involved compared to 1% in Cameroon and in Ougan”, specifies Unicef (source 1).
Why are these mutilations performed?
In some communities, female genital mutilation is an almost universal practice, which is very rarely challenged, notes the World Health Organization (WHO). They are considered a necessary step in a girl’s upbringing. It is a means of preparing her for adulthood and for marriage: they aim to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelityor to discourage women from having extramarital affairs.
In other communities, these mutilations are also associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty.
What are the consequences of female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation does not present absolutely no health benefits. On the contrary, all forms of female genital mutilation are associated with numerous risks. In general, “the greater the intervention, the greater the risk”, warns the WHO.
In the short term, these mutilations can cause severe pain, shock, serious bleeding, high fever, urinary problems, serious infections such as tetanus, injuries and even death.
In the long term, the sexual, reproductive and mental health of women is also heavily impacted. They may face:
- urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
- vaginal problems (vaginal discharge, ulceration, bacterial vaginosis and other infections):
- menstrual problems (painful periods, difficulties in the flow of menstrual blood, etc.);
- problems with scar and keloid tissue;
- sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased sexual pleasure, etc.);
- an increased risk of complications during childbirth (difficult delivery, haemorrhage, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the infant, etc.) and newborn deaths ;
- the need to perform further surgeries at a later date. For example, when the mutilation results in the closing or shrinking of the vaginal orifice, it will be necessary to proceed with a reopening to allow the woman to have sexual intercourse and to give birth. Thus, the vaginal orifice is sometimes closed several times, including after childbirth, which increases and multiplies the immediate and long-term risks;
- psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, low self-esteem, etc.).
Female genital mutilation is internationally considered a violation of the rights of young girls and women, insists the WHO.
And to continue:They reflect deep-rooted gender inequality and constitute an extreme form of discrimination against women.. They are almost always practiced on minors and constitute a violation of the rights of the child. These practices also violate the rights to health, safety and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as the right to life when they have deadly consequences”.
The Covid-19 pandemic threatens the fight against female genital mutilation
Two million additional cases female genital mutilation could occur by 2030, UNICEF warns in a press release published on February 3.
“We are losing ground in the fight to end female genital mutilation, with disastrous consequences for millions of girls where the practice is most prevalent,” said UNICEF’s Senior Prevention Adviser harmful, Nankali Maksud (source 3).
In question ? The Covid-19 epidemic which has been raging since the end of 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, many programs to combat mutilation had to be postponed, explains UNICEF. And “when girls cannot access vital services, schools and community networks, their risk of undergoing female genital mutilation increases dramatically – threatening their health, education and future.”